Basic Saxophone Positioning Tips

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 27,363
    Expert Sax player Seth Kibel gives tips on positioning your saxophone while playing.

    Seth Kibel

    Seth Kibel is one of the Mid-Atlantic region's premier saxophonists. His latest release, on Azalea City Recordings, is "The Great Pretender." On his first solo album, The Great Pretender, tenor saxophonist Seth Kibel brings his raucous, blues-drenched sound to 10 songs with support from some of the most skilled artists in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. Adding their talents to two of Seth’s original tunes and eight of his creative arrangements are European blues star Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, boogie-woogie pianist Daryl Davis, blues diva Melanie Mason, D.C. guitar legend Dave Chappell, jazz pianist Sean Lane, rocker Billy Coulter, dobro-ist Dave Giegerich, bassist Sam Goodall, and drummers Mark Lucas and Joe Wells. The covers include dramatic re-interpretations of songs by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Duke Ellington and The Kinks. '

    The album’s blues and roots rock sounds represent a new approach for the versatile performer and composer, known for his jazz and klezmer music and his leadership of the award-winning “alternative klezmer” band The Alexandria Kleztet. Seth has won 11 Washington Area Music Association Awards (Wammies) including Best Jazz Instrumentalist and Best World Music Instrumentalist.

    Seth began his career as a full-time professional musician in 1996, when he moved to the Washington/Baltimore area following his graduation from Cornell University with a double major in Music and American Studies. Since that time, he has been in demand as a sideman and as a bandleader performing in such diverse genres as jazz, rock, blues, swing, klezmer, dixieland, and classical music.

    Seth began his professional klezmer career in 1993 with Cayuga Klezmer Revival, upstate New York’s premier klezmer band. Their CD, Klezmology, is still sold nationally. Seth is currently the leader, clarinetist, and composer for The Alexandria Kleztet, an “alternative” klezmer band he founded in the Baltimore/Washington area. The band’s three albums, Y2Klezmer (1999), Delusions of Klezmer (2002), and Close Enough for Klezmer (2005) are all available internationally. All three albums received the Washington Area Music Association’s (WAMA) award for Best World Music Recording following their release. The Alexandria Kleztet was named "Best World Music Duo or Group" by WAMA for 2003, 2004, and 2006. Seth also received individual awards for "Best World Music Instrumentalist" in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, and was named "Best Jazz Instrumentalist" for 2005.

    In addition to his activities with the Kleztet, Seth has fronted a variety of swing and jazz groups, including Corner Pocket, Air Mail Special, The Bay Jazz Project, and Seth Kibel’s Dixieland All-Stars. In 2002, he was commissioned to write, perform, and record an original score for Dreams in the Golden Country, an original theatrical production at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. In January 2004, he released his first jazz CD, a joint album with violinist Susan Jones entitled Nuts and Bolts. And in late 2004, he produced A Chanukah Feast, an album for the DC-based charity Hungry for Music featuring both regional and national artists. In 2005, he was the recipient of an "ASCAPlus" grant, as well as a Silver Prize (2nd place) winner in the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest, in the "jazz/blues/instrumental" division. In summer 2007, he released The Great Pretender, his first solo record for Azalea City Recordings. On the album, Seth brings his raucous, blues-drenched sound to 10 songs with support from some of the most skilled artists in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. Seth has performed with such notables as Sam Moore (Sam & Dave), Percy Sledge, The Coasters, and Johnnie Johnson. Additionally, he has appeared with many notable groups in the Baltimore/Washington area, including The Daryl Davis Band, Project Natale, Christian Josi, The Tom Cunningham Orchestra, The VanDangos, and The Hot Kugel Klezmer Band, just to name a few. He has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Carter Barron Amphitheatre, the Lowell Folk Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as on several European tours.

    Seth can be heard on recent CD releases by the Skyla Burrell Blues Band, the Swing States Road Show, folksinger John Simon, The Civil Air Patrol Band, American Song, The Hot Kugel Klezmer Band, guitarist David Kitchen, boogie-woogie pianist Daryl Davis, blues guitarist Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, jazz vocalist Esther Haynes, and flamenco guitarist Gerard Moreno. Since 2002, he has been on the faculty of the ElderHostel program at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. He has also lectured extensively on klezmer, jazz, swing, the big band era, and other related musical topics at Peabody, Goucher College, and elsewhere.

    Seth's primary instruments are the clarinet, saxophone (alto, tenor, and baritone), and flute. He has, however, been known to make some noise on harmonica, recorder, guitar, piano, and accordion. In his eight years as a professional musician, Seth has performed for numerous private affairs, such as receptions, weddings, and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, all across the country. Whatever your affair, Seth will work with you to put together the right ensemble. References available upon request.

    You have got the saxophone assembled, you have got it adjusted properly, let me give you some basic positioning tips and then we will talk about embouchure. Left hand, that would be this one over here, the one that has the watch. The thumb should rest on your thumb rest. There is no key there. It is just a convenient spot to put your thumb. The first fingers hang out around here; right thumb goes under the thumb rest down there and the fingers hover around the keys here. Now, saxophone is kind of nice, because unlike a flute or a clarinet or an E-bow, you are not actually covering holes with your fingers, you are using your fingers to press keys that in turn cover holes. The reason this is nice, is because you do not have to be that precise and aware on the key, you hit it. If you hit it to the side it is still going to cover the hole. If you hit it in the middle, it is still is going to cover the hole. Secondly, you can keep your fingers close to the keys. The one thing I do not like to see saxophone students do is this. See those fingers flying out there? When I am not using them, they are out here having a party. Keep your fingers as close to the keys as possible. The only reason, I am able to play lightening fast is because I am keeping my fingers close to the keys. I am minimizing unnecessary movement. Embouchure; that is the fancy, schmancy French word for the position, the shape of your mouth on the saxophone. This can be harder to describe because it is hard for me to look into your mouth and it is hard for you to look into my mouth, but let me give you some basic principles. Lower lip curls over your bottom teeth and the middle part of that cut away of the reed rest on that lower lip, about so. About half of the cut away portion of the mouthpiece should be in your mouth. Your top teeth hit the top of the mouthpiece. So, again, if you are doing this correctly, the bottom teeth are not hitting the mouthpiece. They are under your lower lip. The top teeth are hitting the mouthpiece. Seal the corners and blow. A couple of things; at first, you are probably going to puff your cheeks and puff your lips a lot like that. You want to avoid doing that as much as possible because that wastes air and that also affects the tone that you are going to generate. It can be very hard to avoid puffing at first because these muscles are very weak. Think about it, your average person is not using their cheek muscles very often. So, at first you are going to have a hard time doing that, but keep in mind that eventual goal is to not to have any puffing going on anywhere in your mouth and as you practice more and build that muscle strength, that will get easier and easier. No puffing, whatsoever. You also want to make sure you seal the corners of your mouth, so air does not leak out the side like this. Not only is that an unpleasant, disgusting noise, if it is wasting air that could be better used to make music. Again, that is going to be hard at first, because those lip muscles are not going to be that strong but as you practice, as you build those muscles, it is going to get easier and easier. Another thing, that is going to be hard at first, is those lower teeth in your lower lip, it is going to feel a little sore as you bite and bite in that lower lip. That is natural too. Your lip is not used to that kind of strength but as you play on a regular basis, your lip will get stronger and stronger and it will bother you less and less that you are biting in to your lower lip. Alright, I think we are ready to start making our first notes.